By Nick BeJeaux
The effort to prevent the LSU lakes from degrading to their primal, muddy state has officially begun.
Last week, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation held an open conference at the Lod Cook Alumni Center – only a few dozen feet or so from the lakes’ silty shore – where Kinder Baumgardner of the SWA Group and Jeffrey Carbo of Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects discussed their master plan for preserving the historical landmark.
The press conference kicked off a two-day visit during which Baumgardner and Carbo met with several stakeholders in the project: LSU, the City-Parish, and the people who live around the lakes. According to Baumgardner, who graduated from LSU in 1987, these visits are the first step to developing the strategy to save the lakes.
“The lake behind me is beautiful, pristine. It’s a huge asset to the city of Baton Rouge, the University and the people of Louisiana,” he said. “But they’re slowly dying.”
Originally, the lakes were a cypress swamp. The trees were cut down in the 1920s to create a beautiful lake that would increase land values, and it worked – some houses around the lakes today have price tags in the millions. But in an increasingly environmentally conscious world, property values have become less important than ecology, because if the lakes sink, so do the values of the homes around them.
“Nowadays we feel and think differently about that,” said Baumgardner. “There isn’t a lot of ecology going on in the lakes, and we need to change that. We need to go in and figure out exactly what need to be done. Things like adding oxygen to the water, getting certain pollutants out of the lake like fertilizers that cause algae blooms [which cause oxygen depletion], and also how people can use the lakes in more interesting and robust ways.”
Carbo is also an LSU Graduate and an occasional resident of Baton Rouge. Like Baumgardner, he is excited to begin the project not only for the benefit of this city, but for others across the globe.
“In my opinion, this project can help transform how people think about urban living – a model for other cities around the world,” he said. “Many cities have similar problems like this, so we have many opportunities here. Also, this area really is the gateway to LSU’s campus and the older parts of the city, so that really gives us a great opportunity to create something special here.”
From the beginning, Baumgardner and Carbo have insisted they aren’t interested in band-aid solutions. They want to develop a plan that will keep the lakes’ ecology healthy for decades to come – without breaking the bank.
“We don’t want to be here 30 years from now and fixing the same issues,” said Baumgardner. “Also, costs are always an issue. I’ve never worked on a project where money was no object. We want to start the project knowing what the right things to do are and push them to the limit so that everyone understands what the best solutions are and generate a lot of conversation about those solutions.”
To help with that, they’ve assembled a team of ecologists, engineers, and architects to help develop a balanced master plan that benefits nature and the urban areas surrounding it.
“Nature doesn’t want to be in an urban environment, but these lakes have actually done a very good job with that,” said Baumgardner. “Pelicans sometimes show up, there’s a heron sitting out there – that’s pretty amazing! Most cities in North America would kill to have that kind of nature in their urban spaces. But there’s huge issues that go along with that.”
For example, stormwater runoff from yards, streets, urban canals, and driveways have a major impact on the lakes. Putting in long-term fixes, like filtering the water through existing natural systems, is cost effective, environmentally friendly, and long-lasting.
“Instead of having a stormwater pipe dump directly into the lake, maybe that pipe ought to dump water into a series of wetlands before that water actually gets into the lake,” said Baumgardner. “That way the sediment gets sucked out, there’s less phosphorous in the water – those are some of the ways were hoping will help maintain nature in an urban environment.”
Baumgardner also said that considering human interaction with nature will be a major part of formulating the master plan.
“You have to realize too that when there’s nature in an urban environment, people want to use it,” he said. “For example, putting people in the middle of a bird sanctuary isn’t a very good idea. Birds don’t like us that much. So we have to make those two work together because at the end of the day, it has to work for both. It needs to be a great touchpoint for nature in the city, but it has to be a place where people can go out and take advantage of it.”
Give your input on the lakes restoration at Thelakes.MindMixer.com